How to nourish yourself well to prepare a sports challenge

Olga Amado

13 February, 2019

A sporting challenge not only involves physical training, diet will become a key factor during the days and even months before, the day of the competition or challenge and beyond.

To know how to prepare a race from a food point of view, first of all we need to know a little about how our metabolism works and know what fuels we burn when facing a sporting challenge:
The substrates that provide us with energy are, first and foremost, muscle and liver glycogen, glucosehealthy circulating, later, the fats of the adipose tissue and finally, the muscular proteins. Therefore, the use of muscle proteins to generate fuel will largely depend on the availability of other substrates.

So, preparing for a sports challenge not only involves physical training, food will become a key factor during the days and even previous months, the same day of the competition or challenge and thereafter. Through food we can prevent the effects that physical exertion can cause on our body, and how it can also improve performance.

It is true that it is necessary to provide enough fuel to the muscles but it must also be borne in mind that the challenges can be very diverse and that the same preparation is not necessary to face a marathon race or a long distance cycling race, than others with more or less distance or a tennis match. However, the intake of carbohydrates is essential when optimizing fitness and physical performance.

We shell out in order what would be the steps to follow from a food point of view in the event that we prepare a challenge or long-distance race or important physical requirement.

The months before
The diet to follow in the months before the test does not need major changes if it is already done well. It must be balanced in terms of nutrients and adjusted according to our daily caloric expenditure which will be defined by the basic expenditure, which we add for the work we carry out during our working day and we must add the expenditure we make to through exercise. It is advisable to make it in five meals a day, well distributed energetically and sufficiently varied, it is important not to fall into monotony.

The previous month
As we get closer to the day of the challenge, it could be a month before, we will begin to vary the proportion of nutrients we ingest daily. The change is justified based on the increase in the intensity and / or duration of the workouts. If this were the case, we would increase the amount of complex carbohydrates or slow absorption, we are basically talking about farinaceous (pasta, rice, potato, legumes, cereals). If they usually account for 50% of our daily intake, we need to increase them to 60%. We will reduce fat intake a bit, but not drastically, and protein intake will be maintained at the rate of 1,2-1,4 g per kg of body weight.

Remember! It is interesting to have well identified which foods belong to each nutrient group in order to make variations in the amounts correctly.

The previous week
It is one of the key points of preparation. The three or four days before the challenge are those where we need to replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores. Carbohydrates will account for almost 70% of the daily caloric intake, they would be between 5-8 grams per kg of weight of the athlete. At the same time, training these days will not be very intense. It is worth mentioning, as explained above, that this overload is not always considered, as it is not the same to prepare for a 100 km race as for a 10 km one. The latter will not need the overload.

The day before
On this day there will be no copious intakes that can be difficult to digest, new dishes should be avoided due to risk of intolerance, nor are flatulent meals such as cabbage or legumes, rich in fiber such as artichokes or whole foods. Alcoholic beverages are not recommended due to their diuretic effect, which promotes dehydration, and foods rich in fats, such as fried foods or sauces.
We will try to include foods rich in slow-absorbing carbohydrates in each meal, so we will continue to make fuel reserves and not neglect hydration.
The night before the competition we will have dinner early to go to bed with the digestion done, and we will eat soft food to facilitate digestion as much as possible. In this sense, raw foods, sauces, spicy, flatulent, fats, fizzy drinks, sugary or whole foods are not recommended. It would be good to opt for a plate of rice or boiled pasta accompanied by a white meat, an omelette or a white fish baked or grilled, with some cooked vegetables and a slice of toast. For dessert a yogurt or fruit, which can also be cooked to improve digestion.

Breakfast of the day D
This meal will be made 2 or 3 hours before the race or challenge. We will choose foods such as bread, whole grains or low-fat cookies, but boiled pasta is not ruled out. We will accompany it with cooked ham or turkey, fresh cheese, cottage cheese or yoghurt and a little honey, quince or fruit compote if you like. We can also include some healthy fat, such as nuts or avocado. Before the race we will continue to hydrate but without going overboard, a couple of glasses will be enough. To end this section, two warnings: the first refers to milk, you have to be careful because it can be difficult to digest. The second is related to coffee: caffeine tolerance is particular to everyone, although it is a stimulant and can help with concentration, its powerful diuretic effect must also be taken into account. Therefore, there is no need to test on the day of the competition.

During the race
The intake during the race will depend on its duration. In races that do not exceed the time of exercise, it is not necessary if a load of carbohydrates has been made in the previous days. For longer races it is interesting to replenish energy, as glycogen is depleted from the time of exercise. So, from the second hour of exercise we should incorporate about 30 g of carbohydrates every hour. To do this, energy bars or gels, small fresh cheese sandwiches with jam or quince, nuts and dehydrated fruit, Maria cookies, rice cakes, bread sticks or fresh fruit are useful. We will continue without neglecting hydration: we will often drink in small sips without waiting to be thirsty. It is recommended that the drink be fresh but not cold, to facilitate its assimilation. It is advisable to combine water with an isotonic drink or fruit juice diluted to 50%. It should always be drunk without gas.

After the race
It's time to dump her. We will start immediately with the replacement of lost fluids with water or fruit juice, vegetable drinks or isotonic drinks. It is about recovering fluid, minerals and vitamins. The pace will be one glass every 20 minutes or so. When it comes to solid intake, it is often difficult to eat after high-intensity races. It is advisable to choose foods that are easy to assimilate, such as a smoothie, porridge or drinkable yoghurt. We need to refill our glycogen stores as well as repair the muscles from the wear and tear we have suffered. A few hours later there will be a full meal, rich in complex carbohydrates based on pasta, potatoes or rice.

To sum up
1. Train and rest. As important is a good workout as recovery and night rest.
2. Eat well from the start. Food is a key factor in achieving the challenge, if you do not know how, let yourself be advised by professionals and do not go your own way.
3. Remember that complex carbohydrates are your allies, you need fuel.
4. Attention to the week before the competition or challenge, you can not lower your guard, it is the important moment.
5. Do not experiment the day before, let alone the day of the competition.
6. The day of the competition has breakfast well in advance without crowding you with courage. You must have worked on this in the previous days.
7. During the race, eat if necessary. The best allies will continue to be carbohydrates.
8. And most importantly, before, during and after, don’t neglect hydration.
9. Finished the test is the time of replacement and repair.
10. Finally, we all have a bad day, listen to your body and leave if you ask.


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the author

Olga Amado

Responsible Area of ​​health of the Llinars Sport

Graduate in medicine and surgery (UAB). Specialist in Physical Activity and Sports Medicine (UB). Master in Nutrition and Food (UB).

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